Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sister mischief...

My sister Deb comes to visit me pretty often. I hardly ever visit her, because it is hard to leave home when one has so many little faces to care for. If I am not here to look after chickens, ducks, goats, dogs and horse, things could go badly. And finding a house sitter that will milk goats is ... well, it's a challenge. Anyway, I love it when Deb visits. She always says, "I'm going to come see you and we are not going to do a THING. We are just going to relax." That NEVER happens. Her brain is always on overdrive, planning how to take something good and make it better. I just sit and wait to see what direction she'll head. Then, the obedient little sister, I follow along. We always manage to have fun, and I am left with end results that are delightful.

This weekend we had planned to maybe take a harbor cruise, or go kayaking. Something that involved water. However, the weather was rather gray and chilly, so plans changed. Yesterday we explored Belfast, had a little lunch, did a bit of shopping, and then tried out a new recipe for strawberry pie once we got home. Afterwards there was a nice dinner at the picnic table, with a flames sparking in the fire ring, and lively conversation. Today we got up, had a yummy breakfast and then she said, "The way your front room is arranged isn't quite right." Well, SHE was quite right, the front room has been vexing me. "It needs more seating, and to be cozier." I agreed with her. Before I knew it the room was emptied of furniture. Then we took advantage of the empty space and washed and waxed the wood floor. Next we did what our mother would have called, (with a happy gleam in her eye) "robbing Peter to pay Paul." We moved a loveseat from up in my husbands office down stairs. We moved a table out to the garage. We moved the chair that had been in the front room to the kitchen. Each step of the way involved cleaning and polishing and general tidying. Deb went "shopping" in the pantry, and pulled out unused decorative bits. We took things off the walls and replaced them with new things. We moved plants. And all the while we were invoking the spirit of our mother, who died several years ago on this very day. She would have delighted in our project. I am pretty sure she was with us in spirit. When we moved this piece of furniture we had a good chuckle...

This little chest belonged to my paternal grandmother, and then my mother. She used to keep it in the living room, with a tray on it that always had a lamp, and usually a decorative item. A potted plant would be on one side to fill the empty space. She kept the tray in place by balancing it on a paint can, and the plant normally perched on a coffee can. Deb and I had a chuckle when we moved this chest from the front room to the dining room. I had a tray, balanced on a paint can, and my plant is bolstered by a Mason jar. Like mother, like daughter!

Here is how the front room, (which we call "the snuggery,") looks, freshly spiffed up and redecorated.

We checked out a favorite antique store this weekend and I found this table cloth. I have a passion for crows, and this cloth is vintage and so unique!

It is much cozier now. We moved the wicker chair from the front room to the kitchen...

I can envision a friend sitting and chatting while I cook us supper, or me sitting to pour over a favorite cook book. Or a dog sitting and staring at me hard until I fill it's bowl. Yeah. That is probably what it will be used for most of all!

The dining room has a FABULOUS new chandelier from Windsor Chairmakers in Lincolnville, ME. It goes beautifully with my table from the same place.

So, in my sisters wake my house looks cozier and more tidy. Sister mischief is always such a treat.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

"I could never..."

When people find out that we raise some of our own meat they look troubled. "I could never eat something I raised," they tell me.
And I understand, because I once felt exactly the same way.

Every year we raise 25 or so broiler chickens. These birds are bred specifically to grow fast and produce a large amount of meat in ratio to bone. When they arrive in the mail they are 2 days old, and the cutest little balls of fluff imaginable. After a few days they lose their cute appearance as the baby fluff falls away and they begin to grow sparse, white feathers. They gain body mass at an astonishing rate, and are ready to process in just 8 weeks. The dressed birds will weigh 5 pounds or more.

They are eating and drinking machines, spending much of their day hovering around the food dispenser and water fount. The flock of 23 broilers and 15 or so new layer chicks drink in excess of two gallons of water a day, along with 2 quarts of fresh goat milk. And they handily go through 50 pounds of food in a week once they are 5 or 6 weeks old.

These birds are like Sumo chickens. When they see me coming with more food, they rush me,waddling as fast as they can and trampling my shoes with their over-sized yellow feet.

Look at the size difference of the white meat birds and the darker layer chicks. They are the exact same age.

Because the broilers all look alike, and have very little obvious personality, and because they are rather uninteresting blob creatures that produce copious quantities of bad smelling manure, it is easy not to become attached to them. The pullets that will become my new laying flock are far more fascinating. They are animated in their actions, curious and clever, chasing bugs, exploring their surroundings and roaming about. The broilers mostly sit and grow. However, they are out on grass and in the fresh air and sunshine, and I believe they have a much better life than most chickens that are raised for the table. And I am here to tell you, home raised chicken tastes much better than store bought. I have to believe it is better for us, too.

These are the things I'd like to tell the folks who say, "I could never..." to me. But I just smile and nod and say, "I understand."

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Interesting people...

My day today was riddled with interesting people. Here at my little grooming studio, many people stay while I work on their pet. And we chat. Most of them are terribly nice, and some are incredibly interesting. It's a bit of a gift, these folks who come here, and share a little of their life with me before they leave again. They weave ribbons of color into the tapestry of my life.

First off this morning was a woman who I always enjoy visiting with. She is a lady in her early 80's. She taught music at a local college for many years, and is fascinating to talk to. She is a true Maine salt-of-the-earth character. She is smart, talented, funny and terribly capable. Today she told me about a trip she recently took to a foreign country. She was in a very rural area, and told me of a woman she met who lives on a school bus in the summer and in a small shack in the winter. She was fascinated that this person gave birth to 8 children then gave each one away. She went with a friend of hers who is in her early 90's. This particular friend helps her to stack wood every year, calling her on the phone and saying, "Don't you stack without me!" I love the image of these two strong women, of a certain age, piling wood high to keep the winter chill away.

Next was a lady who told me of a local group of Amish craft people who build barns and out buildings. She is having an artists studio built, and has recently visited where it will be made. I need to go see this place, it sounds fascinating.

Later this couple arrived with their little dog. I asked if they were planning to stay or were planning to run an errand. The wife replied that they might sit in their car. She had brought a good book and he had his Penny Whistle. The day was fine, and a cool breeze blew in the windows. I said, "I can't think of anything I'd enjoy more than to hear you play the Penny Whistle. Would you consider sitting here and playing while I work?" His lips switched upwards a bit and he went to the car and returned with his whistle. For the next hour he played me hymns and ancient songs and the sun shone and the birds sang and I groomed their dog and I was just so happy. The wife said, "This is so peaceful here." She was right.

The next lady brought two larger, hairy, dogs in. She has recently been quite sick, still does not feel great, and told me she didn't want to drive home and back and would stay while I groomed her pets. We chatted for a long time while I worked. She told me that she is a healer, and told me stories of healings she has performed. She told me how when she is near someone who needs help her hands get hot. She said she has been in line at the grocery store and her hands have begun to burn, and she knows someone near her needs help.

Fascinating. All of it. These people who bring me their pets and share slices of their lives with me. The ribbons of color they leave me with are so bright.

Monday, July 13, 2015


Several people have gently "nagged" me to put up a new post. Summer is a busy time, and sometimes I run out of steam before I find the energy to post a blog.

Here are a few things that are happening lately.

Chanel the horse has been at my friends house for a while. Her horse was lonely and my pasture needed a break from the constant eating that Chanel does. In exchange, I had my friends ram lamb here for a bit, until she had a proper pasture for him to stay in. Yesterday we had what she dubbed, "the hostage exchange." We brought Chanel home and she took "Ramchop" and a companion boy goat to her house.

Chanel tends to be a bit chunky. (Ok, she is fat. My vet fusses at me horribly. My neighbor says, "That is a HAPPY pony.") Her time at my friends house was sort of like a fat farm. She came home trim and fit and... I can even see her RIBS! She looks amazing!

That Hannible Lecter thing on her face? That is called a "grazing muzzle." It allows her to eat, but drastically limits how much food she gets with each bite. She doesn't love it, but it helps keep her looking fit. I am determined to keep it on her so she continues to look so nice. I need one for me, too!

Yesterday we also loaded the pigs up and took them to the butcher. I felt rather sad, I liked these pigs. They did tend to try to nibble on us, and those teeth were sharp, but all in all they were benevolent members of the farm. They had a nice little life here, though... plenty of food and good goat milk, (which they loved!), a big pasture to play in, a nice mud wallow, cozy shelter and plentiful fresh water. I think their days were happy.

We took down the hot wire that enclosed their area, and tonight I took the goats over and showed them...

Though the pigs had rooted up much of their pasture, a lot of browse was growing there, along the line where the electric fence was, and also along the wire fence. The goatie girls had an excellent time exploring the space and eating all the food they previously could not reach.

The flower gardens are pretty this year. I especially like this petunia plant.

Tonight my husband, daughter and I were watching television in our living room. My daughter calmly stated, "There's a bat in the house." I looked in the direction she was staring. Sure enough, a little bat hung from one of the stairs that go to the bedroom area. She approached to catch it and it nimbly lifted off. It began to circle through the living and dining rooms, flying lower and lower. It swept inches from our heads.

Finally it landed on the footstool, tried to escape, then launched itself airborne. After a few long moments it landed on the floor, frightened and exhausted. It climbed to the top of the baseboard heater (which, after seeing this picture, I realize needs a good wipe down!) Our daughter caught it gently in a soft piece of fabric, and let it out the front door. We find a bat or two zipping about the house at least once every summer. I like them a lot, but prefer they stay outside.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Silkie palace...

I looked forward to opening the "pop door" in the new Silkie palace today, so I could watch the birds explore their new area. I waited until my other chores were done, then grabbed a cool drink and sat in the yard to see what would happen.

It wasn't long before one hen poked her head out the door to see what she could see.

Then she strolled down the ramp.

A few moments later another fluffy head appeared.

All the ladies scratched around the yard, nibbling on tender shoots and no doubt a few bugs along the way. Then they put themselves back inside the Silkie Palace and stayed there most of the day. Personally I think they are plotting how to redecorate.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Farm day...

I had a lovely day today. Nothing really scheduled and hours of perfect weather to putter and catch up in.
After morning chores the first order of the day was to move the broiler chicks and the layer chicks out to the pasture. This meant that Chris and I took up the electrified poultry netting we were using to make a temporary goat pasture, and moved it to where I wanted the chicks to be. After we got it all put up, we moved the hutch the chicks sleep in to their new space, and then carried food and water out there for them. Then it was time to try to catch the chicks. The broilers are round and ungainly, but surprisingly nimble when they don't choose to be caught. And they never choose to be caught. That being said, they were far easier to gather up than the little layer chicks were. Daughter Rachel and her boyfriend helped. It took a while, but we finally got them all rounded up. They happily explored their new space, eating grass and clover and chasing bugs.

The new little "Silky Palace" is snugged up in a corner of the back yard, looking sweet.

I put down some clean, bright shavings, and food and water containers, then tucked the girls in. They looked most approving of their new abode. One cocked her head at me and crooned, as if to say, "What took you so long?" I can't wait to see them explore the back yard tomorrow.

The goats are enjoying the deep grass in the meadow and the pretty weather, too. If I go to the pasture and call them, they run to me, gleefully.

Little Ramchop, my friends lamb, is growing on me. This FACE. It is adorable. He has a deep, resonant voice, calling, "Maa!" when he sees me, hoping I'll bring grain and treats.

I sat in the pasture for a bit, and the goats all gathered around me. They snuffled my face and huffed their warm breath in my ears. It smells like fresh mowed grass when they exhale, rather pleasant. But when the burp (and they often do) the smell is enough to curl my hair. They don't care. The press against me, leaning on me, clearly happy with my company. And I am happy with theirs.

Little Jane Doe is getting prettier every day. She is sleek and soft and sweet, and snuggles when she gets the chance. I'm glad we are keeping her. Her ears are a riot.

I'm not sure if it's my imagination or not, but Luna seems to be a bit better. She is still very thin, but she seems brighter and bossier and that makes me happy.

This Independence Day weekend is an anniversary of several major events in our lives. Chris and I met this weekend in '84, found out we were expecting our daughter this weekend in '88, moved to Memphis this weekend in '89, and then moved to Maine this weekend 12 years ago. I look back with such gratitude for all of those events, especially the one where I met Chris, who makes all of the happiest aspects of my life possible.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Farewell friend...

At the end of our driveway, in a little triangle of land, stood a big, old, beautiful maple tree. In the fall it's leaves were a glory of color, in winter its graceful branches stood out in lovely silhouette against the sky. Springtime brought a blush of delicate new green, and in summer there was cool shade cast into our yard. We loved the tree. Rachel's guy friends like to scurry up it like squirrels, and dangle from its branches, all sinew and bravado. But the tree was not well.

Every wind storm brought piles of dead branches littering the ground beneath it. Each year fewer leaves grew, and those that did appear turned a sickly yellow orange by early August and fell to the ground, defeated. Since it was such a large tree, I worried that a storm would send it crashing down, perhaps on top of someones car. So we hired a tree guy to come and put our friend to rest.

He arrived at 8:00 AM. Alone. I thought he'd bring some guys along to help him, this was a big job. He went to work, slowly, steadily, methodically. His chain saw roared to life and he began to cut off the lower limbs. The sound of branches hitting the ground made me sad. I spent the day wishing the tree was strong and thriving. All the while I watched the tree guy go about his business.

He left the firewood there for us to split and move and stack. He tossed the branches into the woods. The few boughs that had leaves went over the fence to the goats. They were delighted and spent the day eating and eating some more.

And now when I look outside, there is a void. A big vacant space where the lovely tree once was. My entire day has had a tone of sadness about it, beating to the drone of the chainsaw and percussion of wood hitting the earth.